New Jersey Senators Discuss Top Lawmaker’s Psilocybin Legalization Bill In Committee

June 28, 2023 ·

A New Jersey Senate committee held a hearing on Monday to discuss a bill that would legalize the possession, home cultivation and gifting of psilocybin mushrooms for adults 21 and older while also creating a system of licensed businesses to provide access to the psychedelic and related services in supervised settings.

The Senate Health, Human Services and Senior Citizens Committee took up the legislation from Senate President Nicholas Scutari (D)—hearing testimony from experts and people whose lives have been directly impacted by psychedelics—about a year after the measure was originally filed.

Scutari said in opening remarks that the proposal addresses an “important topic that has gained national attention” in light of studies showing the “medical efficacy and benefits of psilocybin.”

He said that he’s “looking forward to working with members of the legislature on certainly making amendments [and] improvements, as a result of some of this important testimony,” adding that he hopes the work of the committee will help “craft legislation that eventually will make psilocybin available in a legal fashion here in New Jersey.”

“I’m very thankful for you taking this moment in time to address an important topic to so many New Jerseyans struggling with certain issues—addiction, mental health [and] the like,” he said, suggesting that the measure may ultimately be amended to more narrowly focus on providing a therapeutic regulatory framework for access to the psychedelic.

Frederick Barret, a professor at Johns Hopkins University’s Center for Psychedelics Research and Psilocybin Therapy, was among those who testified on Monday, explaining how psychedelic-assisted therapy works and outlining some of the findings from initial research.

He said that there’s an expectation that MDMA in particular will be “approved within the next year” by the federal Food and Drug Administration (FDA), as Heady NJ first reported.

“While it might take a very long time, sometimes too long… I want to respect that process,” Barret said. “I see the criminalization of possession of compounds like this leads to a magnitude of more harms than good.”

The committee chairman, Sen. Joseph Vitale (D), said at the close of the hearing that “this is going to be certainly an evolving issue for us here,” and while “there’s a lot more to learn” before the legislature acts, “this has been very informative for the members of this committee.”

Under the Senate president’s bill as introduced, the state would move to create psilocybin treatment centers where adults 21 and older could visit to receive the psychedelic therapy.

The measure would also make it legal for adults to “possess, store, use, ingest, inhale, process, transport, deliver without consideration, or distribute without consideration, four grams or less of psilocybin.”

“It will also not be unlawful for a person over 21 years of age to grow, cultivate, or process plants or fungi capable of producing psilocybin for personal use, or to possess the psilocybin produced if the plants and fungi are kept on the grounds of a private home or residence and are kept secure from access by persons under 21 years of age,” it says.

That’s an especially notable provision, as New Jersey’s marijuana laws do not permit adults—or even medical cannabis patients—to grow their own plants for personal use, much to the frustration of reform advocates.

The legislation would significantly expand on legislation he introduced in late 2020 to reduce penalties for possession of up to one ounce of psilocybin that was signed by Gov. Phil Murphy (D) in 2021.

The measure states that “engaging in this authorized conduct will not: be considered an offense under State law or the laws of any county or municipal governing body; constitute the basis to assess against any person a civil penalty, a civil sanction, or professional or administrative discipline; constitute the basis for detention, search, or arrest of any person; or constitute the basis to deny a person any right or privilege, or to seize or forfeit the assets of any person under State law or the laws of any county or municipal governing body, provided the person is at least 21 years of age.”

Additionally, people with convictions for an offense that would be made legal under the bill would be provided the opportunity to petition the courts for resentencing or expungements.

With respect to the psilocybin services program, the bill lays out basic regulations, including licensing requirements. There would be four license types—product manufacturers, service center operators, testing laboratories and service facilitators—in addition to psilocybin workers permits. The state Department of Health (DOH) would be responsible for overseeing the program and licensing.

There’s also equity built into the proposed licensing system. Manufacturing, service center and testing applicants would be eligible for a “social opportunity program” if they meet the following criteria: an applicant must be at least 51 percent ownership by people who’ve lived in an economically distressed area for five of the past 10 years and have more than 10 full-time employees (with more than half of those workers also living in a low-income area).

DOH would be tasked with developing the social opportunity program in coordination with an 18-member Psilocybin Behavioral Health Access and Services Advisory Board that would be established within the department.

Members of that board would have to include the health commissioner, deputy commissioner for public health services, the state attorney general (or their designees). Those would be ex officio, non-voting members. Additionally, the board would be comprised of a representative of the states Cannabis Regulatory Commission and 12 governor-appointed members with relevant experience.

“The purpose of the board will be to provide advice and recommendations to the DOH, upon request or upon the board’s own initiative, concerning the implementation of the bill,” the text says. Recommendations would be related to issues such as public education, research into the therapeutic potential of psilocybin, guidelines for psychedelic services, health and safety standards and more.

Regarding local control for the psilocybin proposal, the bill says that county or municipal governments “may adopt, by ordinance, reasonable regulations on the operation of psilocybin product manufacturers and psilocybin service centers located within that county or municipality.”

“No county or municipality will be authorized to establish any taxes or fees on the manufacture or sale of psilocybin products or the provision of psilocybin services,” it states.

This is one of the latest examples of how lawmakers across the country are approaching psychedelics policy this session.

In California, for instance, a Senate-passed bill from Sen. Scott Wiener (D) to legalize the possession and facilitated use of certain psychedelics is set to be considered in an Assembly committee on Tuesday. The sponsor warned recently that the measure faces a “challenging road” ahead to passage.

The governor of Minnesota signed a large-scale bill last month that includes similar provisions to establish a psychedelics task force meant to prepare the state for possible legalization.

Colorado Gov. Jared Polis (D) signed a bill last month to create a regulatory framework for legal psychedelics under a voter-approved initiative. He also spoke about his desire to have the legislature authorize him to grant pardons for psychedelics-related convictions last week.

Last month, a North Carolina House committee approved a bill to create a $5 million grant program to support research into the therapeutic potential of psilocybin and MDMA and to create a Breakthrough Therapies Research Advisory Board to oversee the effort.

A Washington State bill to promote research into psilocybin and create a pilot program to provide therapeutic access to the psychedelic for mental health treatment was also signed by the governor.

Back in New Jersey, the governor signed a bill into law last month that will allow licensed marijuana businesses to deduct certain expenses on their state tax returns—a partial remedy as the industry continues to be blocked from making federal deductions under Internal Revenue Service (IRS) code known as 280E. (Full Story)

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